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[The Van Pelt Report]: Electronic Edition, by Robert Jan van PeltTable of Contents
|IV. Attestations, 1945 - ... >||V. Confessions, 1945 - 47 >>|
III Intimations, 1941 - 1945
We do not exactly know how things have happened, and the historian's embarrassment increases with the abundance of documents at his disposal. When a fact is known through the evidence of a single person, it is admitted without much hesitation. Our perplexities begin when events are related by two or by several witnesses, for their evidence is always contradictory and always irreconcilable. Anatole France, Penguin Island 110
More than fifty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, serious scholars have reached a consensus that some 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz. If it has taken considerable research to establish the number of victims, it has been relatively easy to establish the manner in which these people were brought to their deaths: while epidemics may have caused some 10,000 deaths in Auschwitz, and the violence of the guards and the deprivation of the inmates may have caused ten times as many victims, the vast majority of people who died in Auschwitz were murdered in gas chambers, and their bodies were incinerated in crematoria. Knowledge about the existence and operation of the gas chambers as the main means of mass-extermination was already wide-spread before the liberation of Auschwitz, and was confirmed and further detailed through forensic investigations of the site and study of the remaining documentation, and through post-war statements by witnesses and confessions by perpetrators alike.
I will now present some of the most important pieces of evidence for our knowledge of the genocidal function of Auschwitz. My discussion consists of two parts: in this and the following two chapters, organized as Part Two, I seek to establish the historiographical context within which this evidence became available. In Part Three, I seek to discuss one particular class of evidence: the documents and blueprints which the Germans produced during the war, and which were preserved in the archive of the Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei, Auschwitz O/S (Central Building Authority of the Waffen SS and the Police, Auschwitz in Upper Silesia)--the construction office that oversaw the building of the gas chambers and the crematoria. By means of both accounts, I seek to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, that there is substantial and positive evidence that Auschwitz was a site where gas chambers and crematoria operated as instruments of genocide. I will not offer the evidence for the historical and institutional context for the development of Auschwitz as an extermination camp. In our book Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present, Debórah Dwork and I reconstructed this dynamically evolving context in great detail, and presented both the direct and circumstantial evidence for our reconstruction in our endnotes.
Before we begin with an account of the slow development of our knowledge about Auschwitz, it is good to consider the context of that development. A basic argument of Irving, expressed for example at the press conference convened on June 23, 1989, to celebrate the launch of the so-called Leuchter Report, is that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek were a piece of atrocity propaganda. The flyer that announced the press conference claimed that ";[b]y writing the introduction to the U.K. Edition of The Leuchter Report, [Irving] has placed himself at the head of a growing band of historians, worldwide, who are now sceptical of the claim that at Auschwitz and the other camps there were 'factories of death' in which millions of innocent people were systematically gassed to death."
Irving has a record of exposing fakes and swindles: he once used City of London fraud laboratories to discredit cleverly-faked "diaries" of Hitler's Intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris that had been offered to William Collins Ltd., and in April 1983 he was the first to unmask Adolf Hitler "diaries" as fraudulent, creating a sensation at Der Stern's Hamburg press conference until the magazine had him evicted.
Now he is saying the same thing about the infamous "gas chambers" of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek. They did not exist--ever--except, perhaps, as the brainchild of Britain's brilliant wartime Psychological Warfare Executive (PWE).111
I think that, as I have said often before, that in wartime governments produce propaganda. The propaganda flywheel starts to spin, [and] nobody at the end of the war has a motive to stop the propaganda flywheel spinning. It should be the job of the historians, but the historians have become themselves part of the propaganda process. Now we find in the British archives a lot of evidence that we willingly propagated the gas chamber story because it was a useful propaganda line for us to take. However it was based on such tenuous evidence, as you can see from the document in the press pack,that the people who themselves spread the lie then urged that Her Majesty's Government should not even attach their name because for fear that eventually it should be shown up.112
Whatever the particular elements of Irving's shifting position of what the Psychological Warfare Executive actually did, the core of his thesis --which he shares with most other Holocaust deniers--remains constant: the idea that the gas chamber story belonged to a genre of official disinformation that took its inspiration from the well-documented atrocity stories from the First World War. In the following pages I will show that this is highly implausible: during the Second World War the general public showed a great reluctance to believe accounts of atrocities because they remembered how they had been fooled by wild stories and outright lies of a quarter-century earlier.
Many of the English who went to war in 1939 remembered Arthur Ponsonby's best-selling 1928 study Falsehood in War-Time. Chapter 28, entitled "The Manufacture of News," consists of only one page, and offers an account of five short newspaper clippings recording the fall of Antwerp.
The Fall of Antwerp
When the fall of Antwerp got known, the church bells were rung (meaning in Germany)Köolnische Zeitung
According to the Kölnische Zeitung the clergy of Antwerp were compelled to ring the church bells when the fortress was taken.Le Matin
According to what Le Matin has heard from Cologne, the Belgian priests who refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken have been driven away from their places.The Times
According to what The Times has heard from Cologne via Paris, the unfortunate Belgian priests who refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken have been sentenced to hard labour.Corriére della Sera
According to information to the Corriére della Sera from Cologne via London, it is confirmed that the barbaric conquerors of Antwerp punished the unfortunate Belgian priests for their heroic refusal to ring the church bells by hanging them as living clappers to the bells with their heads down.Le Matin 113
By the end of the 1930s Ponsonby's account of the living clappers had become the staple of textbooks, and his more general conclusions, such as that "in war-time, failure to lie is negligence, the doubting of a lie a misdemeanour, the declaration of the truth a crime,"114 had become part and parcel of common parlance. The overall effect of the relentless exposure of the atrocity stories was, however, a general resentment of the public against those who had roused its passion, inflamed its indignation, exploited its patriotism, and desecrated its highest ideals by government initiated concealment, subterfuge, fraud, falsehood, and trickery. Significantly in the context of the history of Auschwitz, the most notorious symbol of the atrocity story was the gruesome account of the Kadeververwerkungsanstalt (corpse exploitation establishment), operated behind the front lines by the DAVG-Deutsche Abfall-Verwertungs Geselschafft (German Offal Utilization Company inc.). This is the manner in which George Sylvester Viereck described the origin of the story in his Spreading Germs of Hate (1930)
"By Jove!" Brigadier General J.V. Charteris exclaimed. He whistled softly. The Chief of the British Army of Intelligence was fingering a series of photographs. Chuckling to himself he summoned his orderly.
A uniformed youth answered the summons.
"Bring me," the Chief asked, "a pair of shears and a paste pot."
Charteris, his face one broad grin, was comparing two pictures captured from Germans. The first was a vivid reproduction of a harrowing scene, showing the dead bodies of German soldiers being hauled away for burial behind the lines. The second picture depicted dead horses on their way to the factory where German ingenuity extracted soap and oil from the carcasses. The inspiration to change the caption of the two pictures came to General Charteris like a flash.
When the orderly arrived, the General dexterously used the shears and pasted the inscription "German cadavers on Their Way to the Soap Factory" under the picture of the dead German soldiers. Within twenty-four hours the picture was in the mail pouch for Shanghai.
This is the genesis of the most perfect specimen in our collection of atrocity stories. The explanation was vouchsafed by General Charteris himself in 1926, at a dinner at the National Arts Club, New York City. It met with diplomatic denial later on, but is generally accepted.
General Charteris dispatched the picture to China to revolt public opinion against the Germans. The reverence of the Chinese for the dead amounts to worship. The profanation of the dead ascribed to the Germans was one of the factors responsible for the Chinese declaration of war against the Central Powers.
General Charteris did not believe that the story would be taken seriously anywhere outside China.115
In fact, it was taken seriously. Charteris's account of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt appeared in The Times on 17 April 1917. Its source, so the editorial introduction claimed, was a Belgian newspaper published in England, which in turn had received it from another Belgian newspaper published in neutral Holland.
The factory is invisible from the railway. It is placed deep in forest country, with a specially thick growth of trees about it. Live wires surround it. A special double track leads to it. The works are about 700 ft. long and 110 ft. broad, and the railway runs completely around them. In the north-west corner of the works the discharge of the trains takes place.
The trains arrive full of bare bodies, which are unloaded by workers who live at the works. The men wear oilskin overalls and masks with mica eye-pieces. They are equipped with long hooked poles, and push bundles of bodies to an endless chain, which picks them with big hooks, attached at intervals of 2 ft. The bodies are transported on this endless chain into a long, narrow compartment, where they pass through a bath which disinfects them. They then go through a drying chamber, and finally are automatically carried into a digester or great cauldron, in which they are dropped by an apparatus which detaches them from the chain. In the digester they remain for six to eight hours, and are treated by steam, which breaks them up while they are slowly stirring the machinery.
From this treatment result several procedures. The fats are broken up into stearin, a form of tallow, and oils, which require to be redistilled before they can be used. The process of distillation is carried out by boiling the oil with carbonate of soda, and some of the by-products resulting from this are used by German soap makers. The oil distillery and refinery lie in the south-eastern corner of the works. The refined oil is sent out in small casks like those used for petroleum, and is of yellowish brown colour.116
It was a lie, but it was plausible, and it was incapable of complete refutation during the war. In the weeks that followed The Times published many letters that seemed to corroborate the account. On April 25 the satirical magazine Punch included a cartoon entitled "Cannon-Fodder--and After," showing the Kaiser and a German recruit. Pointing out of a window to a factory with smoking chimneys and the signs "Kadaververwerkungs[anstalt]," the Kaiser tells the young man: "And don't forget that your Kaiser will find a use for you--alive or dead."117 On April 30 the issue was raised in the House of Commons, but the government refused to endorse the news. In the months that followed, the account of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt gained international circulation but, remarkably enough, never expanded beyond the few lines printed in The Times No eye-witnesses ever appeared, nor did any report amplify the original report. By the end of the war, the story of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt died, only to be revived by General Charteris in an after-dinner speech at the National Arts Club in New York. On his return to Great Britain, Charteris denied that he had claimed authorship for the story, but enough passions were raised to make the story once more a topic of discussion in the House of Commons. On December 2, 1925, Sir Austen Chamberlain declared in Parliament that "the Chancellor of the German Reich has authorized me to say, on the authority of the German Government, that there was never any foundation to it. I need scarcely add that on behalf of His Majesty's Government I accept this denial, and I trust that this false report will not again be revived."118 Finally, in 1928, the legend of the corpse factories was put to rest in Ponsonby's Falsehood in War-Time.119
The long term effect of stories that told of human clappers in Belgian towers or human bodies used as raw material for the production of soap was that few were prepared to be fooled once again by such a fabrication. Indeed, during the late 1930s and 1940s most people tended to disbelieve anything that did not fit their customary, liberal view of the world. The English historian Tony Kushner described this resistance in his excellent The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination (1994). Before the war German Jewish refugees were often not believed when they told what had happened to them. The physician Dr. Ludwig Gutmann, one-time director of the Jewish hospital in Breslau, recorded that when he told his acquaintance the philosopher Professor F.A. Lindemann of the events of Kristallnacht, the latter "somewhat sneeringly interrupted me, saying 'You must not tell me atrocity legends.'"120 And Lindemann was a staunch anti-Nazi.
The fear to be taken in once more by atrocity propaganda combined often with an either latent or even open antisemitism within mainstream British society. The case of the widely read author Douglas Reed is particularly interesting. The correspondent of The Times in Berlin in the early 1930s, Reed published extremely popular accounts of the rapid developments in Central European politics, and predicted, among other things, the Austrian Anschluss and the course of the Czechoslovakian crisis that was to end with Hitler's absorption of the Czech lands within the Reich. As a result, Reed was widely perceived as one of the very few Englishmen with any understanding of Hitler's Germany.
Disgrace Abounding (1939) proved one of Reed's most popular books, and it did not only describe Hitler's machinations to fool the English and French governments, but also the manner in which the Jews had been able to draw attention to their suffering in the British media. According to Reed, the suffering of the Jews under Hitler was negligible compared with the "holocaust" of the Chinese under Japanese occupation. "In China nearly a million men had been killed or disabled-- killed or disabled, nearly a million men--and the Japanese had butchered several tens of thousands of civilians and had rendered destitute and homeless some 30,000,000 more."121 Yet the British government had paid scarcely any attention to that suffering. Instead, they were concerned about the fate of the German Jews.Reed repeated the same litany at various other places in the same book. It was, obviously, very important to him.
Just as the Jews tend to monopolize the callings and professions into which they penetrate, when there is no anti-Semitism, so did I find them monopolizing compassion and succour when there was anti-Semitism, and as their numbers are small compared with the great mass of non-Jews who are suffering from brutality and persecution in our times, I thought this to be the old evil, the squeeze-out of non-Jews, breaking out in a new place.
The organized Jewish communities in the countries where anti-Semitism exists, or which it is approaching, have complete command of the technique of enlisting foreign help and sympathy. They understand it; this looking across the frontiers is in their blood. If a group of twenty Jews is put into no-man's land, the British and American Legations and Consulates in the nearest capital are stormed, the British newspaper offices too, the next day the entire British and American Press rings with the story, photographs appear, bishops write letters, committees get busy, soon the Jews are released and are on their way to a new land.
Not far away 300 or 400 non-Jewish refugees may be starving in a hut. They have no organized community to care for them, to raid the Legations and newspaper offices on their behalf, nobody visits them, nobody knows that they are there or cares about them. They may rot.122
During the war reports of German atrocities were commonly interpreted at best as exaggerations. Time mockingly referred to news from Poland as "the 'atrocity' story of the week,"123 and when the Polish government-in-exile published in March 1940 a long report of the Nazi policy of terror in German-occupied Poland, one American editorial felt the need to warn its readers that, twenty years earlier, "a great many of the atrocity stories which were so well attested and so strenuously told, so indignantly believed and so commonly repeated, were found to be absolute fakes."124 When in April 1940 the British Foreign Office received a fully corroborated account of Jewish life in German-occupied Poland, Assistant Under-Secretary Reginald Leeper dismissed the report. "As a general rule Jews are inclined to magnify their persecutions," Leeper commented. "I remember the exaggerated stories of Jewish pogroms in Poland after the last war which, when fully examined, were found to have little substance."125 Three years later, when the British government had become well aware of the mass extermination of Jews, senior Foreign Office officials still refused to believe what they knew.
The attitude of Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was typical. He believed that Polish and Jewish sources were unreliable because they had a vested interest in exaggerating German atrocities. Therefore, as late as the summer of 1943, Cavendish-Bentinck opposed the British government to make, at the allied conference in Quebec, a public statement about the systematic gassing of Jews.On August 27, 1943, Cavendish Bentinck made the following observation:And so one of the most senior officials in the Foreign Office refused to believe what should have become obvious by then. Tragically the noble intentions of Ponsonby's book had such unintended negative consequences.
It is true that there have been references to the use of gas chambers in other reports; but these references have usually, if not always, been equally vague, and since they have concerned the extermination of Jews, have usually emanated from Jewish sources.
Personally, I have never really understood the advantage of the gas chamber over the simple machine gun, or the equally simple starvation method. These stories may or may not be true, but in any event I submit we are putting out a statement on evidence which is far from conclusive, and which we have no means of assessing.126
In my opinion it is incorrect to describe Polish information regarding German atrocities as "trustworthy". The Poles, and to a far greater extent the Jews, tend to exaggerate German atrocities in order to stoke us up. They seem to have succeeded....
I think that we weaken our case against the Germans by publically giving credence to atrocity stories for which we have no evidence. These mass executions in gas chambers remind me of the stories of employment of human corpses during the last war for the manufacture of fat, which was a grotesque lie and led to the true stories of German enormities being brushed aside as being mere propaganda.127
Douglas Reed added his own voice in his popular Lest We Regret(1943). Reed assumed that the purpose of all the millions of Jews in Europe was to leave for Britain, and that the only reason the British government would let them in was because of their persecution at the hands of the Nazis. If that persecution would stop, the door to Britain would be closed too. This, Reed argued in 1943, was the condition that led to all the talk about the German extermination of the Jews in late 1942.
In November 1942 a great campaign began about the "extermination" of the Jews. At that very moment the prospect of our victory first loomed distinct. The Eight Army conquered Libya; Italy showed signs of distress; the Germans failed to take Stalingrad; that Germany would be beaten, possibly even in 1943, became clear (and I wrote a play foretelling Hitler's disappearance).
Victory, then approached. If it came, and found those Jews still in Europe, they would remain there. If they were to leave Europe (if "the problem" was to be solved by transferring it to us) they would need to come away before Victory arrived. Also, the British Government had suspended immigration to Palestine. The "extermination" campaign began. The power which this particular interest wields over our public spokesmen and Press stands revealed as gigantic. Some newspapers gave more space to this matter than would be devoted to any other in any circumstances which I can imagine. The word "extermination" was printed billions of times. It was used habitually, without flinching, by Ministers, politicians and the B.B.C. Any who care to keep note of the things which were said, and to compare them in a few years' time with the facts and figures, will possess proof of the greatest example of mass-misinformation in history. All sound of the suffering of the non-Jews who are Germany's captives was drowned.128
These words initiated a very-long rant against the statements of the government, the clergy, the editors and all others about Hitler's policy regarding the Jews. Reed knew better. "I saw Hitler's work with my own eyes, from the day he came to power until the eve of this war," he claimed. "Nineteen-twentieth of the inmates of his concentration camps were non-Jewish Germans; nineteen-twentieth of his victims outside the German frontiers are non-Jewish non-Germans."129 And then he juxtaposed all the contradictory information coming from Europe and all the contradictory statements about them by politicians, and subjected them to a mocking analysis.Reed refused to believe it. He claimed to be better informed than most people making public statements about the extermination of Jews and observed that "I know of no 'oft-proclaimed intentions' or 'orders' to exterminate the Jews." He added that "Hitler is noticeably reticent on that theme," reserving his threats for the British, the Bolsheviks, "and other things" such as the "Czechs, Poles, and Serbs."131
Readers may compare these quotations for themselves. "Extermination was ordered; it was not ordered, but strongly suspected; it was ordered for half the Jews in Poland; for all the Jews in Poland; for all the Jews in Europe by the end of 1942. Two out of three-and-half million were already dead, on December 4th; one million out of seven million were already dead, on the same day; 250,000 were already dead, three weeks later. Thus spoke our leading men.130
Reed's rants were exceptionally virulent in their antisemitism, but nevertheless fitted neatly in the general reticence to give validity to the stories about Jewish suffering in Europe. Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee in Britain, expressed often in public his great frustration with the English unwillingness to believe the news that trickled in from Poland. "The trouble with being a contemporary in times like this," Koestler said in a broadcast talk, "is that reality beats the imagination every step.... For an educated Englishman it is almost easier to imagine conditions of life under King Canute on this island than conditions of life in, say, contemporary Poland."132 In an article published in early 1944 in the New York Times Magazine, Koestler lamented how so very few were prepared to believe the reports of the exterminations. Nothing seemed to make a difference.
At present we have the mania of trying to tell you about the killing, by hot steam, mass electrocution and live burial of the total Jewish population of Europe. So far three million have died. It is the greatest mass-killing in recorded history; and it goes on daily, hourly, as regularly as the ticking of your watch. I have photographs before me on the desk while I am writing this, and that accounts for my emotion and bitterness. People died to smuggle them out of Poland; they thought it was worthwhile. The facts have been published in pamphlets, White Books, newspapers, magazine and whatnot. But the other day I met one of the best-known American journalists over here. He told me that in the course of some recent public opinion survey nine out of ten average American citizens, when asked whether they believed that the Nazis commit atrocities, answered that it was all propaganda lies, and that they didn't believe a word of it. As to this country, I have been lecturing now for three years to the troops, and their attitude is the same. They don't believe in concentration camps, they don't believe in the starved children of Greece, in the shot hostages of France, in the mass-graves of Poland; they have never heard of Lidice, Treblinka, or Belzec; you can convince them for an hour, then they shake themselves, their mental self-defence begins to work and in a week the shrug of incredulity has returned like a reflex temporarily weakened by the shock.
Clearly all this is becoming a mania with me and my like. Clearly we must suffer from some morbid obsession, whereas you others are healthy and normal. But the characteristic symptom of maniacs is that they lose contact with reality and live in a phantasy world. So, perhaps, it is the other way around: perhaps it is we, the screamers, who react in a sound and healthy way to the reality which surrounds us, whereas you are the neurotics who totter about in a screened phantasy world because you lack the faculty to face the facts. Were it not so, this war would have been avoided, and those murdered within sight of your day- dreaming eyes would still be alive.133
Koestler did not mention names, but he could well have thought about Bill Lawrence, the New York Times correspondent in the Soviet Union. When, for example, Lawrence reported in the Fall of 1943 on the mass killing of Jews in Babi Yar near Kiev, he employed a language not much different from that used today by more sophisticated negationists. After mentioning that "Kiev authorities asserted today that the Germans had machinegunned from 50,000 to 80,000 of Kiev's Jewish men, women and children in late September 1941," Lawrence made it absolutely clear that he regarded the claim with great scepticism.After the war Lawrence showed considerable embarrassment about his scepticism, and explained it as a direct result of the atrocity propaganda of the First World war.Lawrence related at length his interrogation of the principal witness, Efim Vilknis, but as it defied credulity, and as there was no supporting evidence, he remained sceptical. Even the fact that the Kiev Jewish community, which had counted more than 100,000 persons before the war, had disappeared, did not help him change his mind. He acknowledged that it was odd that there were no Jews left in Kiev, but he was only prepared to say that "where and how they had departed remained a mystery."136
On the basis of what we saw, it is impossible for this correspondent to judge the truth or falsity of the story told to us. It is the contention of the authorities in Kiev that the Germans, with characteristic thoroughness, not only burned the bodies and clothing, but also crumbled the bones, and shot and burned the bodies of all prisoners of war participating in the burning, except for the handful that escaped, so that the evidence of their atrocity could not be available for the outside world. If this was the Germans' intent, they succeeded well, for there is little evidence in the ravine to prove or disprove the story.134
I grew up in the generation between the two world wars--a generation which had a natural scepticism and inherent disbelief of all wartime atrocity stories. In our most formative years, we had found out that the propagandists for the Western Allies, including our own government, had fabricated some of the most lurid tales of German behavior to arouse their people to wartime fervor....So by the time I headed off to war in 1943, I was unsure just what to believe of all the stories I had heard and read coming out of Europe about Hitler, his SS troops, and the Nazi armies as they marched east across Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and into the Soviet Union. I had no doubt that Hitler had treated the Jews badly, forcing many of them to flee to the sanctuaries in the West, including the United States. But I was not prepared for, and in my mind did not at first accept, the systematic extermination campaign that Hitler and his minions had conducted.135
Even when the war came to an end and the allied armies liberated the camps their remained a great resistance to face the facts. One of the 500 diarists, who kept a daily record for the English social survey organization Mass Observation, wrote after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen that the revelations were beyond belief.
I have not forgotten the recent controversy over the last war atrocity stories, and to me they have always smacked of propaganda--the Germans are our enemies, therefore we must hate the Germans, so additional evidence must be given us to whip up this hatred.... Cruelty has obviously been one of the trade marks of Nazism ever since 1933....It is hard to believe, however, that this mass cruelty has been perpetrated on so many thousands of victims.137
General Dwight D. Eisenhower made it his business to change such attitudes. Immediately after the liberation of the concentration camp at Ohrdruf he visited it, as he wrote to his superior General Marshall on April 15, "in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda.'"138 He cabled Marshall on April 19 the proposal to give others the opportunity to do the same.
We continue to uncover German concentration camps for political prisoners in which conditions of indescribable horror prevail. I have visited one of these myself and I assure you that whatever has been printed on them to date has been understatements. If you would see any advantage in asking about a dozen leaders of Congress and a dozen prominent editors to make a short visit to this theater in a couple of C-54's, I will arrange to have them conducted to one of these places where the evidence of brutality and cruelty is so overpowering as to leave no doubts in their minds about the normal practices of the Germans in these camps.130
President Truman accepted Eisenhower's proposal, and on April 22 a plane left Washington for Weimar via Paris with six senators and six representatives. The next day a plane with a similar destination left New York. On board were 18 prominent American journalists. Many were sceptical. Malcolm W. Bingay, editor-in-chief of the Detroit Free Press admitted a month later in a meeting at the Economic Club of Detroit that he was "frankly sceptical about the atrocity charges. Having lived through the first world war, I realized too many of them had been exploded as myths and I went over in the attitude of 'being from Missouri.'"140 Joseph Pulitzer , the publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, also changed his mind.Responding to such reports, the American Society of Newspaper Editors felt that it was time to address the issue directly. In an article entitled "Reflections on Atrocities," published in the Bulletin of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Gideon Seymour argued that the press should be prepared for possible difficulties in the months ahead.Therefore journalists should take care to make careful distinction in their reports between prisoner- of-war camps and concentration camps.
I came here in a suspicious frame of mind, feeling that I would find that many of the terrible reports that have been printed in the United States before I left were exaggerations, and largely propaganda, comparable to reports of crucifixions and amputations of hands which followed the last war, and which subsequently proved to be untrue. It is my grim duty to report that the descriptions of the horrors of the camp, one of many which have been and which will be uncovered by the Allied armies have given less than the whole truth. They have been understatements.141
For when the American prisoners of war get back and say that they and their colleagues were fairly well treated, except for underfeeding, and that few or none of their numbers experienced such brutalities as have been reported from Dachau, Buchenwald, Ohrdruf, etc., a lot of Americans are going to say, "Well then all those atrocities stories were bunk and propaganda."142
In the end even the most stalwart supporters of the thesis that all the stories about the systematic extermination of the Jews had been merely atrocity propaganda had to face the facts for what they were. The American magazine The Christian Century, which in 1944 had still chided American news papers for giving much attention to the discoveries made by the Soviets in Maidanek--claiming at the time that the "parallel between this story and the 'corpse factory' atrocity tale was too striking to be overlooked"143--had to (hesitantly) admit in 1945 that it had been wrong, and that the parallel did not hold.When even The Christian Century admitted that it had been wrong, it seemed that the world was finally ready for the truth.
We have found it hard to believe that the reports from the Nazi concentration camps could be true. Almost desperately we have tried to think that they must be widely exaggerated. Perhaps they were products of the fevered brains of prisoners who were out for revenge. Or perhaps they were just more atrocity-mongering like the cadaver factory story of the last war. But such puny barricades cannot stand up against the terrible facts. The evidence is too conclusive. It will be a long, long time before our eyes will cease to see those pictures of naked corpses piled like firewood or of those mounds of carrion flesh and bones. It will be a long time before we can forget what scores of honorable, competent observers tell us they have seen with their own eyes. The thing is well-nigh incredible. But it happened.144
For a week or so group after group arrived at the gates of Buchenwald, and by the beginning of May even Eisenhower felt that enough was enough. He wrote to Marshall that "if America is not now convinced, in view of the disinterested witnesses we have already brought over, it would be almost hopeless to convince them through bringing anyone else."145 A week later, on May 9, General Bradley curtailed all visits to the camps with a cable to headquarters.The allies faced the paradox that their very efforts to improve the situation in the liberated camps created, once more, the possibility for some to argue that everything had been just atrocity propaganda.
Buchenwald concentration has been cleaned up, the sick segregated and burials completed to such an extent that very little evidence of atrocities remains.
This negatives any educational value of having various groups visit the camp to secure first hand information of German atrocities. In fact, many feel quite skeptical that previous conditions actually existed.
Suggest that further visits [to] camp be discontinued.146
Indeed, for all the full page photos of the camps that had become available, the camps never were admitted to reality. Theodor Adorno brought this problem in philosophical focus at the time that Bradley closed Buchenwald for guided tours. Visits or not: it would not make much of a difference. Something had come to pass which had changed the whole perception of what is a lie, and what is truth.And Adorno observed that, with the war's end, the situation that had existed before the Nazis had begun to confound truth and lies had not been restored. As lying had come to sound like truth, and truth sounded like lying, it had become "a labour of Sisyphus to hold on to the simplest piece of knowledge." And Adorno concluded, with melancholy: "So Hitler, of whom no-one can say whether he died or escaped, survives."148
When the National Socialists began to torture, they not only terrorized the peoples inside and outside Germany, but were the more secure from exposure the more wildly the horror increased. The implausibility of their actions made it easy to disbelieve what nobody, for the sake of precious peace, wanted to believe, while at the same time capitulating to it. Trembling voices persuade themselves that, after all, there is much exaggeration: even after the outbreak of the war, details about the concentration camps were unwanted in the English press. Every horror becomes, in the enlightened world, a horrific fairy-tale.147
In 1948 the American Judge Michael A. Musmanno, who had served on Nuremberg Military Tribunal II to hear the case against Oswald Pohl and other members of the SS Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Main Department), concluded that, after having sat through 194 sessions of the tribunal, reviewed 1,348 different pieces of written evidence and 511 affidavits, listened to 48 witnesses and testimonies by the defendants, the world of the death camps was still beyond comprehension. In his concurring opinion, Musmanno observed that, when writing of the extermination of the Jews, "the ink runs heavy, the words falter, and a sadness akin to a hopeless resignation enters the soul."Fifty years later when Auschwitz has become an accepted part of our intellectual landscape, it is good to remember that, perhaps, the world of the camps ought to have remained within a somewhat forbidden realm. Although the plethora of movies, memoirs, novels, and media revelations about the Holocaust have brought words such as "Auschwitz," "The Six Million" and so on into daily currency and household usage, the mere fact of their familiarity does not connote their fathomability.
How can one write about a planned and calculated killing of a human race? It is a concept so completely fantastic and so devoid of sense that one simply does not want to hear about it and is inclined to turn a deaf ear to such arrant nonsense. Barbarous tribes in the wilds of South Pacific jungles have fallen upon other tribes and destroyed their every member; in America, Indian massacres have wiped out caravans and destroyed whole settlements and communities; but that an enlightened people in the 20th century should set out to exterminate, one by one, another enlightened people, not in battle, not by frenzied mobbing, but by calculated gassing, burning, shooting, poisoning is simply blood-curdling fiction, fit companion for H.G. Well's chimera on the invasion from Mars.
Adolf Eichmann, chief of the Jewish section of the Gestapo, estimated that the Hitler-Himmler extermination policy of the Jews resulted in the liquidation of 6,000,000 Jews, of which 4,000,000 were killed in extermination institutions. The murder of 6,000,0000 human beings is entirely beyond the capacity of man's imagination and one instinctively refuses to believe. But the curtain of incredulity has lifted and the armor of incomprehensibility no longer protects. The evidence is in and what was utter fantasy and a mere macabre playing with numbers, is proved fact. The figure 6,000,000 is written in digits of blood, and no matter which way one turns their crimson horror is upon one.149
The foregoing consideration demonstrates that there is no historical justification to judge and dismiss the accounts of German atrocities during the Second World War within the context of the atrocity propaganda of the First World War. The attitude of the public of 1939-45 was radically different from that 25 years earlier, and it is clear that any attempt to generate the kind of propaganda symbolized by the notorious Kadaververwerkungsanstalt would have merely generated mockery. To understand the difference in the way people experienced these two wars, it is important to remember that the sudden, all-devouring fire of the First World War caught people, who had experienced more than a century of peace and progress, by surprise. No-one could really explain why the war had come, and why it ought to be fought. There was so little relation between the trifle of Sarajevo and the cataclysm of Verdun. Tens of millions of men, coerced into the mass armies, faced incredible suffering amidst a general unintelligibility of events caused by a senseless, overwhelming force. Facing death without knowing why, the demoralized and dejected men who fought in the trenches lost their self-respect. In such circumstances, values collapsed: as the individual act had become irrelevant and individual judgement impossible, the distinction between truth and lie, fiction and reality had become obsolete. Manufacturing useful lies such as the stories of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt was no better nor worse than the generals' practice to mask the defeat of their strategies by sacrificing some extra armies in order to steal a very small local success that can be trumpeted as a major victory.
The Second World War was different. Instead of confusion there was resolve. From the very beginning, the allies knew that the war would be grim. "No one can predict, no one can even imagine, how this terrible war against German and Nazi aggression will run its course or how far it will spread or how long it will last," Churchill told the House of Commons on October 8, 1940--in the midst of the Blitz against London.Fighting Hitler under the inspired leadership of men like Churchill and Roosevelt, the allies had no need for atrocity propaganda. In the case of England, Churchill expressed his superb and passionate historical imagination with the consciousness that his words, and those spoken by all Englishmen, would remain the object of scrutiny and judgement to many generations--"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This Was their finest hour.'"151 Evoking a dramatic image of what England was, and giving surprisingly little attention to what Germany had become, Churchill was able to mobilize a nation without the need to engage in the very kind of all-too-easily dismissable atrocity propaganda that the weak leaders in the First World War found necessary to employ to bolster morale. "The Prime Minister was able to impose his imagination and his will upon his countrymen, and enjoy his Periclean reign, precisely because he appeared to them larger and nobler than life and lifted them to an abnormal height in a moment of crisis," Isaiah Berlin wrote in a review of Churchill's war memoirs. Churchill's dramatic language "did turn a large number of inhabitants of the British Isles out of their normal selves and, by dramatising their lives and making them seem to themselves and to each other clad in the fabulous garments appropriate to a great historic moment, transformed cowards into brave men, and so fulfilled the purpose of shining armour." And Berlin continued with the following important observation:
Long, dark months of trials and tribulations lie before us. Not only great dangers, but also many misfortunes, many shortcomings, many mistakes, many disappointments will surely be our lot. Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield. We must be united, we must be undaunted, we must be inflexible. Our qualities and deeds must burn and glow through the gloom of Europe until they become the veritable beacon of its salvation.150
This is the kind of means by which dictators and demagogues transform peaceful populations into marching armies; it was Churchill's unique and unforgettable achievement that he created this necessary illusion within the framework of a free system without destroying or even twisting it; that he called forth spirits which did not stay to oppress and enslave the population after the hour of need had passed.152
Indeed, if the caricature of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt was the legacy of allied propaganda of the First World War--a legacy that continues to embarrass--, the bold and dramatic language of Churchill became the legacy of the Second World War--a language that, almost sixty years later, still never fails to inspire.
Let us return now to the war-time revelations about Auschwitz. In November 1941, that is before Auschwitz had been assigned a central role in the Holocaust, the first substantial information about a concentration camp in Oswiecim became available to the public. The 32nd issue of the Polish Fortnightly Review an English-language newspaper published by the Polish government-in-exile, carried a 2,000-word long article entitled "Oswiecim Concentration Camp." It described the camp as the largest concentration camp in Poland, and provided much detail about its extraordinarily violent regime. According to the article, the mortality rate had reached in the winter of 1940/41 an average of 1 per cent per day, and a peak of 2 per cent per day. During this time, the article continued, "three crematorium furnaces were insufficient to cope with the bodies to be cremated."153
One account described the violence of life and death in the camp in a particularly graphic manner.
It happened one day that a prisoner ate two portions of dinner. When it was discovered he was led out before the entrance gate, near the crematorium. By the gate two rows of guards with knouts were lined up. One of them told the prisoner that as he had shown so much ingenuity and cleverness in eating an additional portion, he was to be released. The gate was open, and he could run into freedom. But as stealing was a punishable offence, he must first run the gauntlet of the two rows of guards. He started to run between the lines, being beaten mercilessly on the head and legs with the knouts. Near the end of the line he began to stagger, but he summoned all his strength and ran out through the gate. Then a machine-gun opened fire, and he was wounded in the belly. The guards called to a man with a wheelbarrow working close by, threw the wounded man on the barrow and ordered him to be taken to the crematorium. The prisoner was sufficiently conscious to see where he was being taken, and in a frenzy of despair tried to say something to the crowd of guards watching the sight. But they only laughed and made their way to the crematorium.
There he was thrown in the furnace, where there were already two half-burnt bodies. The sight of his struggles aroused only jeers and laughter among the onlookers. The two guards in charge of the crematorium were ordered to divide the ashes into three, as the last victim had moved and so had disturbed the ashes of the other bodies.154
The Polish Fortnightly Review continued to provide updates about the situation in Auschwitz as information became available. In its issue of July 1, 1942 it described the camp in an article entitled "Documents from Poland: German Attempts to Murder a Nation." Again, Auschwitz was characterized as a particularly violent camp. It mentioned a second camp.This "paradisal" camp was, in all probability, Birkenau, which had been established in the Fall of 1941, and which in the spring of 1942 had received its first inmates. Contrary to the report, Birkenau did not at that time have a crematorium. A large crematorium, many times the size of the one in the main camp, had been designed and approved, but construction had not yet really started. It is unclear if the reference to the crematorium arose from knowledge of the blueprints.
In addition to the main camp, built near Oswiecim, there is an additional camp near by, in which the brutalities are so terrible that people die there quicker than they would have done in the main camp. The prisoners call this supplementary camp "Paradisal" (presumably because from it there is only one road, leading to Paradise). The crematorium here is five times as large as the one in the main camp. The prisoners of both camps are finished off in three main ways: by excessive labour, by torture, and by medical means.155
The report listed various popular forms of torture, and mentioned that German doctors used inmates as guinea pigs for medical experiments in the camp. Of particular interest, in view of later developments, was a short discussion of a German experiment to gas inmates.It is important to note that, after the war, various witnesses confirmed that in early September the Germans had used Block 11 as an experimental gas chamber.157
Among the other experiments being tried on the prisoners is the use of poison gas. It is generally known that during the night of September 5th to 6th last year about a thousand people were driven down to the underground shelter in Oswiecim, among them seven hundred Bolshevik prisoners of war and three hundred Poles. As the shelter was too small to hold this large number, the living bodies were simply forced in, regardless of broken bones. When the shelter was full gas was injected into it, and all the prisoners died during the night. All night the rest of the camp was kept awake by the groans and howls coming from the shelter. Next day other prisoners had to carry out the bodies, a task which took all day. One hand-cart on which the bodies were being removed broke down under the weight.156
Two weeks later the Polish Fortnightly Review paid attention to Auschwitz once more. It noted the excessive mortality due to the rigors of the camp, and contained in a report on a press conference given by the Polish Minister of Home Affairs Mr. S. Mikolajczyk a reference to the ever increasing size of the inmate population.158 It also reported on statements given during the same press conference by two members of the Polish National Council on the extermination of Polish Jewry, and a final remark by the Polish Minister of Information that at least 700,000 Polish Jews had died since the beginning of the war. Yet at this time the concentration camp system and the emerging Holocaust were not yet brought into connection.
Only later that year did the Polish Fortnightly Review begin to mention camps as a execution sites of Jews. Many reports had reached the Polish government-in-exile about deportations from the Warsaw ghetto. In the fall of 1942 a eye-witness of the fate of the deportees had made his way to England. The Polish underground fighter Jan Kozielewski (better known by his underground name Jan Karski), had visited an extermination camp at Belzec disguised as a Latvian policeman, and witnessed the destruction of a transport. In England, Karski informed the Polish government-in- exile, and as a result the Polish Fortnightly Review published on December 1, 1942 as its main item an article entitled "Extermination of Polish Jewry." It reported that the Warsaw ghetto had been subject to daily deportations of 7,000 people per day since July 24. Those who were too ill to travel were killed on the spot, or at the Jewish cemetery. The others were loaded in trains.
The deportees were carried off to three execution camps, at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor. Here the trains were unloaded, the condemned were stripped naked and then killed, probably by poison gas or electrocution. For the purpose of burying the bodies a great bulldozer has been taken to Treblinka, and this machine works without stopping. The stench of the decomposing bodies has nauseated all the peasants for three miles around and forced them to flight. In addition to Treblinka, there are also camps at Belzec and Sobibor. It has not been possible to ascertain whether any of those who have been carried off have been left alive. We have information only of extermination.159
Remarkably enough, the Polish Fortnightly Review did not publish part of Karski's observations at Belzec, but chose to print as an annex to the report an earlier description of the "Jew- extermination Camp at Belzec." It was dated July 10, 1942, and was obviously based on hearsay.In the summer of 1942, when the report was written, no-one who was not part of the execution team had left Belzec alive, and thus the description of the method of killing was largely based on rumour.
When a trainload of Jews arrives at the station in Belzec, it is shunted by a side track up to the wire surrounding the place of execution at which point there is a change in the engine crew and train guards. From the wire onward the train is serviced by German drivers who take it to the unloading point where the track ends. After unloading, the men go to a barracks on the right, the women to a barracks situated on the left, where they strip, ostensibly in readiness for a bath. After they have undressed both groups go to a third barracks where there is an electrified plate, where the executions are carried out. Then the bodies are taken by train to a trench situated outside the wire, and some thirty metres deep. This trench was dug by Jews, who were all executed afterwards.160
After drawing attention to the fate of the Jews in the Polish Fortnightly Review the Polish government-in-exile issued on December 10, 1942 a note to the other allies concerning the mass extermination of Jews in Poland, repeating in substance the information from the article.161 In all this publicity, the names of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka appeared again and again, but there was silence about Auschwitz. This can be explained because, up to the late fall of 1942, Auschwitz did not play a significant role in the liquidation of Polish Jewry. In the summer and fall of 1942 the majority of transports had come from France, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Belgium, and Yugoslavia, and it can be understood why these escaped the attention of the Polish government-in-exile.
It is more difficult to understand why the Polish government-in-exile decided not to act on a report broadcast in March 1943 by a secret radio station operated by the Polish resistance and received in London.
The statistics for Oswiecim from the establishment of the camp until December 15  show that more than 640,000 people perished there, with 30,000 still alive. 65,000 Poles have been executed, hanged, tortured, gassed, or have died from starvation and disease with 17,000 still alive. More than 26,000 Soviet POW's have been liquidated; 100 still alive. More than 520,000 Jews have been gassed, including 20,000 from Poland, and the rest from France, Belgium, Holland, Yugoslavia, etc. 6,800 women are alive, mainly Poles, 19,000 have died. Only a portion are registered in the camp records. Thousands are dying without being identified--e.g. Almost all Jews.162
The Polish government-in-exile was one of only two organizations that had both the wish and the means to systematically monitor the camps in Poland. The second organization that received information about the camps on a systematic basis was British intelligence. Beginning in 1941, the Government Code and Cypher School, which trained intelligence officers, had begun to monitor, decipher and process the German police cyphers. Its main reason was that the hand cyphers of the German police and SS formed good raw material for the training of new decoders, and also provided insight in the strategically more important cyphers used by the German army. Furthermore the information obtained provided important data about anti-partisan activities. From the spring of 1942 until February 1943, the Government Code and Cypher School also intercepted crypted radio messages sent by the administration of the concentration camps to Berlin. These included reports from Auschwitz, but not from Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.163 In a post-war history of this operation, the British historian F.H. Hinsley mentioned that "[t]he daily return consisted of a series of unheaded, unexplained columns of figures," which were interpreted by the students of the Government Code and Cypher School as information about "(a)number of inmates at the start of the previous day, (b) new arrivals, (c) departures by any means, and (d) number at the end of the previous day." Departures by any means was interpreted as a euphemism for deaths. "The returns from Auschwitz, the largest of the camps with 20,000 prisoners, mentioned illness as the main cause of death but included references to shootings and hangings. There were no references in the decrypts to gassings."164
A summary of intercepted messages for the month of August, 1942, includes the following item:The decrypt revealed that the mortality in Auschwitz was about a hundred times that of the large concentration camp at Buchenwald, but also suggested that the main cause of death was typhus. Indeed: the great majority of the 6,829 men and 1,525 women who died in Auschwitz in August 1942 were struck down by disease. It must be remembered, however, that the mortality figures which the concentration camps sent to Berlin only applied to the deaths of registered prisoners, and not to the gassing of deportees who were selected after arrival for immediate extermination. This was made clear after the war during the trial of the head of the central administration of the SS, Oswald Pohl. He was examined in detail about the information he received from the camps about the death rate of the inmates. These, he told the court, were assembled in charts.A couple of minutes later, Pohl's lawyer Seidl came back to the charts.For the administration of the camps, information about the mass-killing of people who were not admitted to the camp, and who therefore did not make any claim on the resources of the SS, was irrelevant.
Reports on deaths in German prison camps during August reveal the following figures:
- AUSCHWITZ:6829 men,1525 women;
As from 1/9/42, "natural deaths" among prisoners in Concentration Camps are to be reported apparently only in writing (durch Formblatt).165
[Judge Musmanno ]: "Then you did know how many people were dying in the concentration camps?"
[Pohl ]: "Yes. I did."
Q.: "And when you saw the number increasing, did you do anything about it?"
A.: "Of course I did. That development was always dependent on the development of the diseases. I inquired what diseases actually prevailed there,what measures had been taken in order to eliminate a steady increase of these diseases. The diseases, epidemic diseases, were usually the reason for the deaths, and they depended on the time or on the epidemic that prevailed at the time. In these curves we could not see all the deaths which occurred through the measures of the Reich Security Main Office or the Reich Government. I only dealt with the inmates who were in the camps according to plan, and who could be used for labor allocation."
[Dr.Seidl]: "We know today that in certain camps extermination measures against certain groups were introduced, and I am thinking especially of the extermination of the Jews. Were these groups of people represented in Dr. Lolling's statistics, or did he confine himself to covering only those cases which, on the strength of reports from medical offices of the individual camps, came to his knowledge?"
[Pohl]: "The figures about exterminations were not reported to the Inspectorate at all, and consequently Dr. Lolling could not evaluate them for his statistics."166
In 1943, when the four crematoria came into operation in Birkenau,the name "Birkenau" occasionally surfaced in relation to the Holocaust, but no-one made a connection with Auschwitz.167 There remained a kind of interpretative "gap" between the few accounts of the camp at Auschwitz as a particularly violent concentration camp meant mainly for Polish resistors, Birkenau as a destination for Jews of unknown geographical location, the Holocaust in general, and the town of Auschwitz as a site of massive industrial activity,Martin Gilbert observed that in fact the industrial activity in the Auschwitz region, with its use of slave-labour, "proved one of the most effective means of hiding the main purpose of Birkenau."168 A good example of this can be found in a report that reached the World Jewish Congress in the summer of 1942.In June 1944, when as the result of the escape of Rudi Vrba and Alfred Wetzlar finally the truth about the use of Birkenau as a site if systematic extermination became known, the Senior Representative of the Jewish Agency in Geneva, Richard Lichtheim, wrote in a letter to the Jewish Agency executive in Jerusalem that up to then he had always assumed that any reference to deportations of Jews to Auschwitz concerned the German purpose "to exploit more Jewish labour in the industrial centres of Upper Silesia."170
We receive alarming reports from camps in Upper Silesia. A French deportee worker reports large concentrations of Frenchmen, English prisoners-of-war, ordinary convicts and Jews in labour camps. Large factories with accommodation for workers are being constructed directly above coal mines for the purpose of producing synthetic rubber. 36,600 men work on one building site; 24,000 on another one. Among them are several thousand Jewish deportees between the ages of 16 and 24 who are treated worst....The rate of mortality is so high that in some camps the Jewish personnel has been entirely replaced many times over. Non-Jewish workers are forbidden any contact with Jews.169
And of course it did not help that no maps showed the name "Birkenau." Even in AustroHungarian times, when the town of Oswiecim was also known as Auschwitz, the village the Germans called Birkenau was identified on the official maps with its Polish name: "Brzezinka." A final issue was that, during the war, Birkenau was officially incorporated in the German Reich. Those who knew about transports of Jews to extermination centers knew that these were located in Poland. The term "Poland" carried the assumption of "German-occupied Poland," which was the Government General. The resulting confusion aided the Germans to maintain secrecy about Auschwitz as a place of mass extermination.
And then there was the fact that the many atrocities the Germans enacted elsewhere also proved an effective screen. In April 1943, for example, a report was drafted on Auschwitz by a Pole who, on instructions of the Polish underground, had gone to the town of Oswiecim to find out what was going on in the camp. His findings were based on accounts of freed (gentile)prisoners. According to the report, Auschwitz had become a major extermination camp for Jews.171 Yet the report was never made public: added as an appendix to a long description of the Warsaw ghetto, it was overlooked when the whole text was dropped because, by the spring of 1943, the situation in Warsaw had changed so dramatically as the result of the uprising that the account in the report was considered obsolete.
- a.Gas Chambers, the victims were undressed and put into those chambers where they suffocated.
- b.Electric Chambers, these chambers had metal walls, the victims were brought in and th6705 en high tension electric current was introduced.
- c.The so-called Hammerluft system. This is a hammer of air. Those were special chambers where the hammer fell from the ceiling and by means of a special installation victims found death under air pressure.
- d.Shootings. This was used as a collective form of punishment, in cases of lack of subordination, thus killing every tenth.
Finally there was the general problem to make information available. In March 1944, for example, the Polish Consul-General in Istanbul issued a cyclostyled report that claimed that between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1943 some 850,000 Jews had been gassed in Auschwitz. Published in a marginal format in a marginal location, it did not attract any attention outside the Polish refugee community in Turkey.172
If the Germans aimed to keep killings in Birkenau secret, the Polish Labour Group in New York City and the American Office of War Information in Washington D.C. inadvertently aided them in their mission. In 1942, before the mass killings of Jews had started, the Polish underground had published a book on Auschwitz. Entitled Oboz Smierci (Camp of Death), it chronicled the first two years of the camp's existence--the period in which it only fulfilled a marginal role in the Final Solution. Nevertheless, the account was grim enough and, smuggled out of Poland, the text was translated into English and published March 1944 by the Polish Labour Group in New York City as Oswiecim Camp of Death (Underground Report). The American publication was endorsed by Elmer Davis, the head of the Office of War Information. In a letter dated February 16, 1944 and printed opposite the title page, Davis wrote that he was glad to see the publication of the text.The opening lines were grim enough.
The record written in blood at Oswiecim and institutions like it in the Nazi dominated countries should be preserved to document the diabolical methods of Nazi suppression and warn the free men of the future against the tyranny which we allowed to rise and blight our time.173
Oswiecim concentration camp, Auschwitz in German, has for two years symbolized the sinister reality of Polish life under German occupation. The shadow of Oswiecim falls over the whole of Poland, for the most remote corners of the country have yielded their sons and daughters to its torture chambers.
According to verified information up to July 1942, 125,000 persons passed through the camp, while, during all of the camp's existence, barely 7,000 people have been released. This figure includes twelve persons who escaped or who were transferred to other camps. At that time 24,000 men and women remained alive. Consequently, 94,000 people have perished in Oswiecim.
In addition to Oswiecim there are a series of other camps, organized somewhat later: Tremblinka, Belzec, and others in the past year in almost every administrative district. Life in any of these camps is an inferno equal to that of Oswiecim. However, in Oswiecim, the methods of cruelty have been lowered to their vilest depth, and applied in every form.174
The text described how information over the camp had only leaked out slowly, and that the editors had checked every detail scrupulously. "Coloring and strong expressions have been eliminated to let the facts speak for themselves."175 One area of specific interest was the account of gassings in the basement of Block 11, the penal barrack. Regularly, the report claimed, groups of prisoners disappeared into those cellars. Mostly these were sick inmates, but at times also included healthy Russian prisoners of war. After some time cries could be heard. "Then there is silence, an ominous silence that spreads around the double barrack. In the ensuing daylight, the silent barrack seems like a huge slab over an immense grave." The report described how for three days nothing moved. Then, on the fourth night, carts came to collect naked bodies to bring them to the crematorium. When one of the carts overturned, one of the prisoners was able to observe in the moonlight that the dead had a strange, greenish pallor. "Years ago he had seen another like it, in an abandoned trench, with the same spectral appearance. It is the mark of poison gas."As we know today, the account was correct: Both Pery Broad and Rudolf Höss were to corroborate it.
No one emerges alive from the darkness of the underground cells to tell a word, and yet, in the first bit of dawn, the secret of 800 dead men filters through. A trip to Oswiecim, a flight of steps into the "underground," and death by gas.176
In early 1944 Oswiecim Camp of Death (Underground Report) was seen as an important account of German atrocities in Auschwitz. No one pointed out that, as an essentially two-year- old account, it did not bring up-to-date information. Easily interpreted as an account of the contemporary situation in Auschwitz, its publication effectively denied whatever rumours had been floating around about Auschwitz as a place where transports of Jews from all over Europe arrived to be gassed.
In the middle of 1944 substantial information about the use of Auschwitz as a site of systematic genocide became available in the form of three reports. The first and most important account was written by two young Slovak Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzlar, who had been imprisoned for two years in Auschwitz before their successful escape on April 10, 1944. They returned to Slovakia in the hope to warn the Hungarian Jews, and there they were debriefed by the Jewish underground.177 A second statement, that corroborated the other, was added. It was older than the Vrba-Wetzlar Report, having been written by a the Polish gentile Jerzy Tabeau shortly after his escape from Auschwitz on 19 November 1943.178 In the version issued by the War Refugee Board, Tabeau is identified as "a non-Jewish Polish Major."
In June 1944 the Vrba-Wetzlar and the Tabeau reports reached Switzerland, and by the middle of the month various copies were circulating. On June 19, Richard Lichtheim, the senior Jewish Agency representative in Geneva, wrote to the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem that it had now become possible to ascertain "what has happened and where it has happened." The systematic killing of Jews not only occured in the by then well-known camps like Treblinka, but also in "similar establishments situated near or in the labour camp of Birkenau in Upper Silesia." Knowing well the confusion that existed as to the what and where of Birkenau, Lichtheim felt compelled to stress that "[t]here is a labour camp in Birkenau just as in many other places in Upper Silesia, and there are still many thousands of Jews working there and in neighbouring places (Jawischowiz etc.)." Yet the use of Birkenau as labour camp did not preclude an even more grim purpose:Lichtheim also explained that Birkenau was formally subordinated "to the camp of Auschwitz (Oswiecim)which is 4 km from Birkenau." This camp, he observed, was generally known because of its violent regime as a "Death Camp." Yet for all its horror it was now revealed to be a pale foreshadowing of Birkenau. The gentiles imprisoned in Auschwitz "have not been slaughtered wholesale on arrival like 90 per cent of the Jews arriving in Birkenau."180
But apart from the labour-camps proper there is a forest of birch trees near Birkenau (Bezinky)where the first large-scale killings took place in a rather "primitive" manner, while later on they were carried out in the labour camp of B itself with all the scientific apparatus needed for this purpose, i.e. In specially constructed buildings with gas-chambers and crematoriums.179
The revelations about the purpose and function of Birkenau occurred at a time that the Germans were in the process of dispatching daily trains full of Hungarian Jews to that location. The Jewish Agency in Jerusalem was likely to do little, but the British Government in London perhaps more, and so Lichtheim contacted the British legation in Geneva with the request (if they would be willing)to cable a text Lichtheim had written to Foreign Office in London. The British diplomats agreed, and on June 27 the Lichtheim telegram was sent to London under signature of the British Minister in Berne. It began as follows:A week later the Foreign Office received an eight-page summary of the Vrba-Wetzlar report from the acting Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Ripka, who had obtained it from the Czechoslovak representative in Geneva.182
Received fresh reports from Hungary stating that nearly one half total of 800,000 Jews in Hungary have already been deported at a rate of 10,000 to 12,000 per diem. Most of these transports are sent to the death camp at Birkenau near Oswiecim in Upper Silesia where in the course of the last year over 1,500,000 Jews from all over Europe have been killed. We have detailed reports about the numbers and methods employed. The four crematoriums in Birkenau have a capacity for gassing and burning 60,000 per diem.181
By the time the facts about Auschwitz had reached London, it also had become known in Washington D.C.. On June 24 Dr. Gerhart Riegner, who represented the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, had given the representative of the War Refuge Board in Berne, Roswell D. McClelland, a summary of the report, and that same day the latter had cabled the most important elements to Washington D.C.In fact, it was to take McClelland two weeks before he was able to telegraph an eight page summary to Washington on July 6, promising that "when mailing facilities permit, microfilm copies of the two reports 'in extenso' will be sent."184 The time-lag can be explained as McClelland desired to obtain certainty about the reliability of the report. A member of the Bratislava Papal Nunciature, who had personally interviewed Vrba and Wetzlar, told McClelland that their story had been thoroughly convincing, and also explained that they had been closely cross-examined by senior members of the Bratislava Jewish community. The latter had taken care that the material finally incorporated into the report included only that about which there was no uncertainty or equivocation.185
There is little doubt that many of these Hungarian Jews are being sent to the extermination camps of Auschwitz (Oswiecim)and Birke Nau (Rajska)in eastern Upper Silesia where according to recent reports, since early summer 1942 at least 1,500,000 Jews have been killed. There is evidence that already in January 1944 preparations were being made to receive and exterminate Hungarian Jews in these camps. Soon a detailed report on these camps will be cabled.183
Having received the assurances he had sought, the American diplomat decided to put his career on the line, and he cabled a summary of the report to Washington D.C. It described the location, the huge size and the atrocious living conditions of Auschwitz, identified as camp "A," and Birkenau, identified as camp "B." After a short account of various medical experiments, and methods of executions through shooting or phenol injections, the summary addressed the core issue: the role of Auschwitz in the Holocaust.The telegram mentioned that, up to the escape of the authors of the report, a total of 145,500 people had been admitted to the camp and registered as inmates. Most deportees were, however, not admitted.The summary mentioned that, initially, the bodies of the murdered people were buried. In the fall of 1942 the Germans had abandoned this practice, and turned to open-air incineration on pyres.After providing details of various transports that had been subjected to selection and extermination, the telegram concluded with a frightful statistic.
Jews who were brought to A toward end of 1941 were for most part Polish political prisoners and killed by various methods as such. Not until spring of 1942 were transports of Jews en masse sent to B (constructed principally for them) to be exterminated on purely racial grounds.186
As first large transports of Jews began to arrive in spring of 1942 process was to admit about 10% of more ablebodied men and 5% of women into B. This selection was made by Gestapo political commission at unloading of trains. Balance including elderly people, women with small children, those ill or otherwise unsuited for work and abandoned children were taken directly to Birkenwald in trucks and gassed.187
At the end of February 1943 four newly constructed crematoria and gassing units were put into operation in B two larger and two smaller the larger type consisted of vast central hall flanked on one side by furnace room and on other by long narrow gas chamber. About 2000 persons at once were crowded into central hall which was camouflaged to resemble a bathing establishment made to undress given a piece of soap and towel and then herded down a short stairway into ad [j]oining lower gas chamber this is hermetically closed and SS men wearing gasmasks mount to rood and shake down into room from three openings in ceiling a powdered cyanide preparation labelled cyklon manufactured in Hamburg. Within a few minutes everyone in gas chamber is dead, latter is aired and Sonderkommando proceeds with gruesome work of transporting bodies on small flat cars running along track passing under central hall to furnace room here there are nine ovens each with four openings with high smokestack rising in middle each opening can incinerate three normal bodies within one-half hours. Daily capacity of larger crematoria is 2000 of two smaller about 1000 each, total of all four units is some 6000 daily.188
Authors set number of Jews gassed and burned in B between April 1942 and April 1944 at from 1.5 to 1.75 million about half of them Poles the others (in thousands followed by country of origin) 150 France, 100 Holland, 60 Germany, 50 Lithuania, 50 Belgium, 50 Yugoslavia, Italy and Norway, together 30, Slovakia, 30; Bohemia, Moravia and Austria together 300 from various camps for foreign Jews in Poland.189
By the time McClelland's summary arrived in Washington D.C., The New York Times had already run three stories on Auschwitz. The first, published on June 20, was only 22 lines long. Entitled "Czechs Report Massacre," it reported the death of 7,000 Czech Jews. "The report said that the victims were dragged to gas chambers in the notorious German concentration camps at Birkenau and Oswiecim."190 Two weeks later the coverage had increased four-fold in an article entitled "Inquiry Confirms Nazi Death Camps," subtitled "1,715,000 Jews Said to Have Been Put to Death by the Germans Up to April 15." The author, the The New York Times correspondent in Geneva Daniel Brigham, still hedged his language, but three days later, in an even longer article entitled "Two Death Camps Places of Horror" he had lost all doubt: the report had received "incontrovertible confirmation of the facts."191
By the middle of July 1944 many had become convinced that the Germans were engaged in the systematic annihilation of Jews in extermination camps, and that Birkenau was one of the most important of these. But few people could really imagine what such places were like. The world of the camps remained intangible. This changed on July 23, 1944. Five days earlier the Soviet army had broken through German lines at Kowel, and on July 23 the Eight Guards Army took the town of Lublin. In Lublin's suburb of Maidanek, General Chuikov's soldiers found a large concentration camp, which the Germans had largely evacuated in the preceding months, but which for unknown reasons they had failed to destroy. The crematorium and various of the gas chambers were captured largely intact.192 For the first time it became possible to fully imagine what the word "Birkenau" meant. On August 29 the Soviet Embassy in Washington published the first instalment of a long, two-piece article by Konstantin Simonov entitled "Lublin Annihilation Camp." The article began with a statement that was to be repeated almost literally by dozens of journalists as they reported, in the nine months that followed, of the things they witnessed in the German concentration camps upon their liberation: "What I am now about to relate is too enormous and too gruesome to be fully conceived." Simonov admitted that it would take a painstaking inquiry to establish all the facts about the camp. Yet, having seen the place, and talked to around 100 witnesses, he could not wait. "[A] man who has seen what I have cannot hold his peace and cannot wait to speak."193In a second part of his report, published a few days later, Simonov reported on the crematoria.The sight that shocked Simonov most was a large shed filled with shoes.
But we open a door and find ourselves in another disinfecting chamber which is built on an entirely different principle. It is a square room, a little over two meters high and roughly six meters long and as many wide. The walls, ceiling and floor are all built of solid gray concrete. There are no shelves for clothes here such as we saw in the other chamber. The room is absolutely bare. A single steel door hermetically closes the entrance to the chamber. It can be fastened from the outside by an impressive steel bar. In the walls of this concrete vault are three apertures. In two of them pipes are fitted which lead out into the open. The third aperture is a little spy hole, a small square window barred on the inside by a stout steel grid fitted into the concrete. A thick panel of glass covers the outer side of the aperture so that it cannot be reached through the grid.
What is on the other side of this spy hole? To answer this question we leave the chamber and find that next to it is another and smaller room, also built of concrete. It is into this room that the spy hole leads. Here there is an electric switch. And here too, on the floor, stand several hermetically sealed cylindrical tins on which is inscribed the word "cyclone " and in smaller letters "for special use in Eastern regions." It was the contents of these tins which was poured through the pipes into the chamber next door after it had been filled with people.
The people were stripped naked before they were pushed into the room and they were packed so tight they occupied little space. In these 40 square meters or so 250 persons were jammed at one time. The steel door was closed upon them and its edges sealed with clay. Then specially trained operators wearing gas masks poured the "cyclone" out of the cylindrical tins into the chamber. The small bluish innocent-looking crystals, on contact with the oxygen of the air, immediately began to generate poisonous gases which simultaneously affect all centers of the human organism.
An SS man of the commanding squad turned on a switch in the next room illuminating the poison chamber and through the spy hole watched all stages of the asphyxiation, which according to various witnesses lasted from two to 10 minutes. He could safely watch the action of the gases and the faces of the dying. The spy hole was set into the wall at roughly the height of a human face. He had no need to look down, for the people were packed so close they did not fall as they died, but continued in an upright position.
Incidentally, "cyclone" really is a disinfecting substance. It was actually used for the disinfection of clothes in neighbouring sheds. Everything seemed fair and aboveboard. It all depended on the dose which was poured into the chambers.194
It is a large rectangular building, built of highly resistant firebrick. It contains five brick furnaces arranged one alongside the other, with round, hermetically-closing iron doors which now stand open. The deep furnaces are half-filled with incinerated vertebrae and ashes. In a space in front of each furnace lie skeletons which were made ready by the Germans for cremation. Those in front of three of the furnaces are skeletons of men and women; those in front of the other two are the skeletons of children of 10 and 12, to judge by their size. There are five or six skeletons in front of each furnace. This indicates their capacity. Each furnace was built to accommodate six bodies. If the six bodies would not fit into the crematorium the operators hacked off the protruding parts of the body, an arm, a leg or a head, and then hermetically closed the door.
There are five furnaces in all. They could handle a large number of bodies daily. Originally they incinerated a corpse in 45 minutes, but gradually by raising the temperatures in the furnaces the Germans doubled the handling capacity of the crematorium and incinerating process; instead of 45 minutes they took 25 and even less. Experts have already determined the fireproof brick from which the furnaces are built and conclude from the deformations and changes to which it has been subjected that the temperature in the furnaces exceeded 1,500 degrees Centigrade. Additional evidence is furnished by the cast-iron dampers, which have also been deformed and have slightly melted.
If we reckon on an average that each batch of bodies took half an hour to cremate, and if we bear in mind, as is generally testified, that since the autumns of 1943 smoke poured from the crematorium chimney-stack incessantly, day and night, we may conclude that the total capacity of the crematorium was 1,400 bodies per day.195
There may be a million, there may be more. They spill over out of the hut through the windows and the doors. In one spot the weight of them pushed out part of the wall, which fell outwards together with piles of shoes.
Every kind of footwear can be found here: torn Russian military top-boots, boots of Polish soldiers, men's shoes, women's slippers, rubber overshoes, and what is the grimmest of all, thousands upon thousands of pairs of children's footwear--boots, shoes and sandals of children ten years old, eight years old and even of babies. It is hard to imagine anything more gruesome than this sight, a silent witness of the destruction of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children....Like everything else in the death camp, this storehouse was built for utilitarian purposes; nothing belonging to the slaughtered victims was to be wasted, neither clothes, shoes, bones nor ashes.196
One day after the Soviet Embassy in Washington published the first instalment of Simonov's account of Maidanek, the American public found confirmation in The New York Times. On August 30 it carried on the front page an article entitled "Nazi Mass Killing Laid Bare in Camp," written by the same Bill Lawrence who, nine months earlier, had shown such scepticism about the alleged mass killing of Jews in Babi Yar. This time Lawrence did not hedge his statements anymore.
I have just seen the most terrible place on the face of the earth--the German concentration camp at Maidanek, which was a veritable River Rouge 197 for the production of death, in which it is estimated by Soviet and Polish authorities that as many as 1,500,000 persons from nearly every country in Europe were killed in the last three years.
I have been all-through the camp inspecting its hermetically sealed gas chambers, in which victims were asphyxiated, and five furnaces in which the bodies were cremated, and I have talked with German officers attached to the camp, who admitted quite frankly that it was a highly systemized place for annihilation, although they, of course, denied any personal participation in the murders....
This is a place that must be seen to be believed. I have been present at numerous atrocity investigations in the Soviet Union, but never have I been confronted with such complete evidence, clearly establishing every allegation made by those investigating German crimes.
After inspection of Maidanek, I am now prepared to believe any story of German atrocities, no matter how savage, cruel and depraved.198
While seeing Maidanek may have convinced Lawrence that his earlier scepticism had been inappropriate, the editors of The Christian Century felt no need to let go of the scepticism they had shown all along about the atrocity stories coming from Europe. On September 13, 1944 they provided under the heading "Biggest Atrocity Story Breaks in Poland" a short summary of Lawrence's account, and noted that "chief evidence for the charge that 1,500,000 persons had been killed in this manner was a warehouse 'about 150 feet long' containing clothing of people of all ages who were said to have been done to death in the camp." It did not convince the editors back home in America.And thus the editors of one of the leading Christian magazines in the United States concluded their coverage of the discovery of Maidanek.
Many newspapers gave the Lublin charges the big headline of the day, but the parallel between this story and the "corpse factory " atrocity tale of the First World War is too striking to be overlooked. That story started in 1917 and was not finally discredited until 1925. There may or may not be a relation between the fact that the Lublin account came out immediately after it was charged by London Poles that the Russians had stopped their advance within artillery range of Warsaw and waited until the Germans had killed 250,000 Poles within the city who had risen to fight for their freedom in response to the call of the Polish government-in-exile.199
The editors of Time showed less hesitance to accept facts for what they were. On August 21 they had provided a first account of the "gigantic murder plant," largely taken from notes by the Russian war correspondent Roman Karmen.200 Three weeks later they printed an almost full-page article entitled "Murder, Inc." written by their Moscow correspondent Richard Lauterbach, who had visited the camp sometime earlier. He was puzzled by the banality of the camp. "I took notes calmly, feeling little emotion. It was all so cold and bare." After having inspected the gas chambers, his guide, the secretary of the Soviet Atrocities Commission Dmitri Kudriavtsev, showed him some cabbage patches.Lauterbach noted the Soviet expert's explanation of the ultimate result of capitalist logic without comment. And neither did he dispute the expert's interpretation of German efficiency.Lauterbach ended with an extensive description of the warehouses with shoes.
The big, leafy cabbages were covered with a sooty, grey dust and next to them were high mounds of grey brown stuff. "This," said Kudriavtsev, "is fertilizer. A layer of human bones, a layer of human ashes, a layer of manure. This is German food production. Kill people; fertilize cabbages."201
The crematorium might have been a big bakeshop or a very small blast furnace. Here the Nazis carted the bodies, straight from the gas chambers. They cut them up scientifically. They put the chunks on iron stretchers, slid them on rollers into the five greedy mouths of the coke-fed ovens. They could disintegrate 1,900 people a day. "There was great economy," said Kudriavtsev. "These furnaces also heated the water for the camp."202
A week later Life ran another of Lauterbach's articles on Maidanek. It was entitled "Sunday in Poland."
It was not the gas chambers where victims were snuffed out standing up, or the crematorium where they were chopped up and then burned in construction ovens. This part of the "death factory" didn't get to me somehow. Too machine-like. It wasn't even the open graves with skeletons or skulls or stacks of fertilizer made from human bodies and manure. The full emotional shock came at a giant warehouse chock-full of people's shoes, more than 800,000 of all sizes, shapes, colors, and styles.
In some places the shoes had burst out of the building like corn from a crib. It was monstrous. There is something about an old shoe as personal as a snapshot or a letter. I looked at them and saw their owners: skinny kids in soft, white, worn slippers; thin ladies in black highlaced shoes; sturdy soldiers in brown military shoes.203
By this time a joint Soviet-Polish commission, that comprised of three Russian and eight Polish members (amongst whom a priest, the President of the Lublin Red Cross, two academics and two lawyers), and which was assisted by a six-member Board of Medico-Legal Experts and a four-member board of Technico-Legal and Chemical Experts, had begun a systematic forensic investigation, following procedures that had been well established in nineteen earlier enquiries into German atrocities.204 They were lucky in that they had been able to obtain not only testimonies from former inmates, but also from a number of SS men who had not been able to escape in time. Furthermore some parts of the camp administration had been captured and, as we have seen, the gas chambers and crematoria had remained intact and were available for forensic investigation. In October the commission issued its report, the English-language version of which was made available by the Soviet embassy in Washington D.C. on October 17.205
After a short introduction, the report came immediately to the point.Of course, the designation "Vernichtungslager" was only an informal one used by the SS guards in their conversations with the Soviets, and perhaps amongst themselves. The official designation of Maidanek was, like that of Birkenau, as a "Prisoner-of-War Camp of the Waffen SS Lublin" (Kriegsgefangenenlagers der Waffen SS Lublin)--a designation that preserved Himmler's original but quickly thwarted intention to use the camp as a forced labour pool of Soviet prisoners of war.
The Hitlerite hangmen set up a huge death factory at Maidanek in Lublin. They named it "Vernichtungslager" ((Extermination Camp). Germans who had served in this camp and were taken prisoner testified before the Commission. SS Rottenfuehrer Theodor Scholen stated: "This camp was called the 'Extermination Camp'--'Vernichtungslager'--just because a tremendous number of people were exterminated there."
Heinz Stalbe, a member of the Kampfpolizei, stated: "The main purpose of this camp was to exterminate the greatest number of people, and for this reason it was named the 'Vernichtungslager,' i.e.'Extermination Camp.'"206
The bulk of the report was devoted to an extensive description of life in the camp, the constant starvation and exhaustion, the diseases, the humiliations, beatings, tortures, and hangings. One chapter chronicled the mass shootings, which had culminated on November 3, 1943 in the execution of 18,400 people on one day. Another chapter described extermination by gas.
One of the methods most widely used for the mass extermination of people in Maidanek Camp was asphyxiation with gas. A board of technico-legal and chemical experts--presided over by the architect engineer of the town of Lublin, KELLES-KRAUSE, and consisting of Major Engineer, Assistant Professor TELANER, Master of Technical Science GRIGORYEV, and Master of Technical Science PELKIS, established that cells built on the territory of the camp had been used chiefly for the mass extermination of human beings.
There were six such cells. Some had been used for killing people with "S.O." gas, others for killing with the poisonous chemical substance called "cyclone." On the camp territory there were discovered 535 drums of "Cyclone-B2" preparation and several steel cylinders containing carbon monoxide....
On the basis of precise calculation used in the technical examination of the gas cells, chemical analysis of the carbon monoxide and "cyclone," the experts have ascertained: "Technical and sanitary-chemical analysis of the gas cells in Maidanek Concentration Camp fully confirms that all these cells, especially cells Nos. 1,2,3 and 4, were destined and used for the large-scale extermination of people by poison gasses such as hydrocyanic acid (the 'cyclone' preparation) and carbon monoxide."207
The conclusions by the technical experts were corroborated by eye-witness testimony of the captured SS men.
At a session of the Commission German SS men who had served in the camp related the following about the large-scale gassings of people: SS Rottenfuehrer Haensche stated that on September 15, 1942, 350 people, including women and children, were killed in a gas cell. SS Oberscharfuehrer Ternes told the Commission about the asphyxiation of 500 people, including many women and children, in gas cells on October 16, 1943.
The selection of people for asphyxiation was done systematically by the German camp doctors Blanke and Rindfleisch. The same Ternes stated: "On the evening of October 21, 1943, Camp Doctor SS Untersturmfuehrer Rindfleisch told me that on that very day 300 children of three to 10 years of age had been asphyxiated with the "cyclone" preparation in a gas cell."
Bodies were regularly removed from the gas cells to be burned in the crematorium or on bonfires. The bodies were transported on trucks or on special platforms hauled by tractors. Many eyewitnesses gave evidence on this point. The German prisoner of war SS Rottenfuehrer Theodor Scholen, who had worked in the camp, stated: "I often saw the truck, with a trailer attached, running from the gas cell to the crematorium and back. It took dead bodies from the gas cell, and then returned empty.208
The next chapter dealt with the technology of incineration. The crematorium had been completed in 1943 and counted five furnaces designed to burn continuously.There was also ample evidence that the Germans had incinerated corpses on large pyres, and the commission had found at least 18 large mass graves within the camp area, and 1,350 cubic meters of compost that consisted, among other things, of human ashes and small human bones. On the basis of the capacity of the old incinerators and the new crematorium, the assumed capacity of the pyres both inside and outside the camp, the commission estimated that some 1.5 million people had been killed in the camp. This latter figure was found suspect from the beginning, and led in 1948 to a new, official estimate of 360,000 victims based on analysis of transports, lists of the dead, and the occupancy of the barracks.210
The technical experts who thoroughly examined the structure of the furnaces came to the following conclusion: "The furnaces were intended for burning bodies and designed to function uninterruptedly. Four bodies with hacked off extremities could be placed in one furnace at a time. It took 15 minutes to burn four bodies, and so with all furnaces working round the clock it was possible to burn 1,920 bodies in 24 hours. Taking into account the great quantity of bones discovered all over the camp (in pits, in vegetable gardens and manure heaps), the Committee of experts believes that bones were taken out of the furnaces before they could be completely consumed, and that therefore, in fact, many more than 1,920 bodies were burned in 24 hours."209
By the time the report appeared, the shock of the initial discovery had passed. The forensic investigation had confirmed the initial accounts, and so it was not really news. Few newspapers paid attention. Yet the work of the commission made an impact on the German leadership. Maidanek was "a public relations" disaster. David Irving tells in his Hitler's War that at a war conference of October 27 Press Chef Otto Dietrich handed Hitler an English newspaper that carried a summary of the Soviet report.Indeed: Himmler became determined that it would not happen again. Within days after the incident in the Führer headquarters, he decided that, for all practical purposes, the Jewish Question had been solved as much as it was in his power to do, and he ordered the cessation of gassing in Auschwitz, and the dismantling of the extermination installations in the crematoria.212
A hush fell on the war conference. Hitler angrily laid the newspaper aside: "That's that 'hacked-off hands again--pure enemy propaganda!" .... But the consternation among his circle persisted. A perplexed Ribbentrop showed the newspaper to his son Rudolf, visiting him on injury leave from his Waffen SS unit. Rudolf too exclaimed, "Father, can't you recognize atrocity-propaganda when you see it--it's the 'hacked-off hands' again!!" Ribbentrop uneasily pressed Hitler in private. "It's Himmler's affair," replied the Führer dismissively, "and his alone."211
Just at the time that crews of prisoners completed the demolition of the gas chambers in Auschwitz the War Refugee Board published the Vrba-Wetzlar and Tabeau reports, which had been made available in summary in early July, and a third text drafted by Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz, who had escaped Auschwitz in late May, and who provided important information about the early phase of the Hungarian Action. The collated text was entitled German Extermination Camps--Auschwitz and Birkenau. In its press release, the Board stated that, with exceptions for the figures concerning the number of people admitted to the camps--"declared by the authors to be no more than reliable approximations"--it accepted the accounts as providing "a true picture of the frightful happenings in these camps."213
The first time gassing is mentioned concerns the killing of prisoners in the summer of 1942. At this time Vrba had been the administrator of the sick barrack, and hence knew of the selections.In the report Vrba and Wetzlar also correctly identify the completion of Crematorium 2.There followed a long description of crematoria 2 and 3 (in their numbering I and II 216) accompanied by a sketch. It is clear that the account of the lay-out of the interior is based on second-hand information, probably derived from members of the Sonderkommando. Indeed: in sworn deposition Vrba made in 1961, and in his later book I Cannot Forgive (1963), Vrba stated that he received all the specific information on the crematoria from Sonderkommando Philip Müller and his colleagues.217
At the same time the so-called "selections" were introduced. Twice weekly, Mondays and Thursdays, the camp doctor indicated the number of prisoners who were to be gassed and then burned. These "selectees" were loaded into trucks and brought to the Birch Forest. Those still alive upon arrival were gassed in a big barrack erected near a trench used for burning the bodies.214
At the end of February, 1943 a new crematorium and gassing plant was inaugurated at BIRKENAU. The gassing and burning of the bodies in the Birch Forest was discontinued, the whole job being taken over by the four specially built crematoria. The large ditch was filled in, the ground levelled, and the ashes used as before for fertilizer at the farm labour camp of HERMENSE, so that today it is almost impossible to find traces of the dreadful mass murder which took place there.
At present there are four crematoria in operation at BIRKENAU, two large ones, I and II, and two smaller ones, III and IV.215
On the basis of direct observation, people who had been on transports, the people who handled the property of the deportees, the reports of the registry office of the Quarantine Camp in Auschwitz, and the information provided by those who worked the crematoria, Vrba and Wetzlar estimated that about 1,765,000 Jews had died in Auschwitz up to April 1944.
Jerzy Tabeau's report, which had a independent origin, provided much detailed information on life in the camp. More importantly, it corroborated the Vrba-Wetzlar account of the use of Birkenau as a site of mass extermination. Tabeau mentions that the first large transports of Jews began to arrive in the spring of 1942. "Certain large scale preparations had to be made to receive these mass transports and a special concentration camp was opened at BIRKENAU (The Polish name of the village is RAJSKO)."218 It describes the selections in detail, and the killing in the summer and fall of 1942 of the Jews in the gas chamber in the birch forest. Tabeau mentions the problems with getting rid of the corpses.With exception of the clause "and the bones collected and burned in the crematoria (by that time four had been completed)" all that Tabeau mentioned was corroborated after the war.
The crematoria had not yet been constructed, although there was a small one at AUSCHWITZ which, however, was not employed for burning these bodies. Mass graves were dug at that time into which the corpses were simply thrown. This continued into the autumn of 1942.By this time extermination by gas was being intensified and there was no more time as such for summary burial. Row upon row of bodies of murdered Jews, covered only by a thin layer of earth, were widely dispersed in the surrounding fields, causing the soil to become almost marshy through the putrefaction of the bodies. The smell emanating from these fields became intolerable. In the autumn of 1942 all that remained of the bodies had to be exhumed and the bones collected and burned in the crematoria (by that time four had been completed). An alternative was to gather the remains of the unfortunate victims into heaps, pour gasoline over them, and leave it to the flames to finish the tragedy.219
As a result, much was known about Auschwitz by the end of 1944.The report of the War Refugee Board provided the structure, and the knowledge of Maidanek the texture of that knowledge.
110. Anatole Fance, Penguin Island, transl. A. W. Evans (New York: The Heritage Press, 1947), 3f.
113. Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in War-Time: Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations during the Great War (London: George Allan & Unwin Ltd., 1928), 161. In fact, as James Morgan Read showed at the beginning of the Second World War, Ponsonby had been fooled. None of the papers mentioned ever carried such articles. "But where did Ponsonby get his information," Read asked. "The source was almost certainly German. The Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of July 4, 1915, contained the story exactly as Lord Ponsonby has translated it, under the caption, "What Can Be Made Out of a News Item." Although there is no indication in the German paper that this is a fable, the lack of any such item in the papers names shows that the German editors were ridiculing the Allied Purveyors of atrocity tales. At the same time they were demonstrating to the German public the naivete of their opponents. To make the cycle of this absurdity complete, almost a year later the same German paper carried the identical story, citing Ponsonby as authority. He had, indeed, used it in the interim. No mention was made of the fact that this had been originally been German irony. More than likely the German authors had forgotten it themselves by that time. Propagandists often succeeded in talking themselves into believing a legend of their own creation." James Morgan Read, Atrocity Propaganda 1914-1919 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1941), 25.
114. Ponsonby, Falsehood in War-Time, 25ff.
115. George Sylvester Viereck, Spreading Germs of Hate (New York: Horace Liveright, 1930), 153f.
116. "The Corpse Factory," The Times, April 17, 1917.
117. "Cannon-Fodder--and After," Punch, vol. 152 (April 25, 1917).
118. Ponsonby, Falsehood in War-Time, 112.
119. It is not surprising that Ponsonby's book is today published by the negationist Institute of Historical Review. In a recent issue of its journal, it was advertised as follows: "Falsehood in Wartime by Arthur Ponsonby, M.P. First published in 1928, this trenchant volume authoratively debunks numerous atrocity lies fabricated and circulated about the Germans during World War I. Learn how professional liars--three decades before the Holocaust story--manufactured such fakes as a "German corpse factory," "the crucified Canadian," handles Belgian infants, and scores more with typewriter, scissors and paste to lead millions to misery, mutilation, and death. Lord Ponsonby's classic remains indispensable for anyone concerned to see through government and media lies today--and tomorrow. New Softcover edition, 192 pp, $ 6.95 + $ 2 shipping from IHR." The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 13 (September/ October 1995), 43.
120. Tony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A Social an cultural History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 56
121. Douglas Reed, Disgrace Abounding (London: Jonathan Cape, 1939), 268.
123. Time, September 18, 1939,59, as quoted in Deborah Listadt, Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945 (New York: The Free Press, 1986), 137.
124. Peoria Journal Transcript, March 9, 1940, as quoted in Lipstadt, Beyond Belief, 137.
125. Bernard Wasserstein, Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 166f.
126. Victor Cavendish-Bentinck Minute, August 23, 1943, Public Record office, FO 371/34551
127. Victor Cavendish-Bentinck Minute, August 27, 1943, Public Record Office, FO 371/34551
128. Douglas Reed, Lest We Regret (London: Jonathan Cape, 1943), 249f.
129. Ibid. 251.
130. Ibid., 253.
131. Ibid., 253f.
132. As quoted in Iain Hamilton, Koestler: A Biography (London: Secker & Warburg, 1982), 77.
133. Arthur Koesler, The Yogi and the Commissar, and other Essays (London: Jonathan Cape, 1945), 94f.
134. W.H. Lawrence, "50,000 Kiev Jews Reported Killed," New York Times, November 29, 1943, 3.
135. Bill Lawrence, Six Presidents, Too Many Wars (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972), 90f.
136. Ibid., 95.
137. Diary 5358, April 20, 1945, as quoted in Joanne Reilly, Belsen: The Liberation of a Concentration Camp (Routledge: London and New York, 1998), 66
138. Alfred D. Chandler Jr. And Stephen Ambrose, eds., Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, The War Years, **vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 4, 2615f.
139. Ibid., 2623.
140. As quoted in Norbert Frei, "Wir waren blind, ungläubig und langsam' Buchenwald, Dachau und die amerikanischen Medien im Früjahr 1945," Vierteljahrschefte für Zeitgeschichte, vol. 35(1987), 390.
141. Ibid., 390f.
142. Ibid., 392f.
143. As quoted in Lipstadt, Beyond Belief, 249.
144. As quoted in Lipstadt, Beyond Belief, 274.
145. Chandler and Ambrose, eds., Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, The War Years, 4, 2679.
146. As quoted in David A. Hackett, ed.. The Buchenwald Report (Boulder, San Francisco and Oxford: Westview Press, 1995), 13.
147. Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, transl. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 1978), 108.
148. Ibid., 109.
149. Judge Michael A. Musmanno, "Concurring Opinion," in United States, Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, 10 vols. (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1950), vol.5, 1128f.
150. Winston Churchill, "The War Situation IV," Blood, Sweat, And Tears (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1941), 391.
151. Churchill, "Their Finest Hour:," Bllod, Sweat, And Tears, 314.
152. Isaiah Berlin, "Winston Churchill in 1940," The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, ed. Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheet (New York: farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 620.
153. "Oswiecim Concentration Camp," Polish Fortnightly Review, no. 32(November 15, 1941), 6
155. "Documents from Poland: German Attempts to Murder a Nation," Polish Fortnightly Review, no. 47 (July 1, 1942), 2.
157. Wojciech Barcz, an inmate who worked as a nurse, recalled a few months after the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union he was ordered to bring very ill inmates into the underground cells of Block 11. "They were locked into these cells. Around 10 in the evening we heard that the SS drove a large group of people to that place. We heard screaming in Russian, orders of the SS, and the sound of beating. In the middle of the night three days later, we nurses were ordered to go to Block 11. We had to clear the corpses from the basement cells. We saw that a large group of Russian prosoners simply had been gassed in those cells together with the sick inmates who we had brought there. The image we saw when we opened the cell doors was that of an over-packed suitcase. The corpses fell toward us. I estimate that some 60 corpses were pushed together in a small cell. It was so packed that they could not fall over when they died, bur remained standing....One could still see many signs of a terrible death struggle." See Wojciech Barcz, "Die erste Vergasung." In H.G., H. Langbein, and Ella Lingens-Reiner, eds., Auschwitz: Zeugnisse und Berichte (Frankfurt: Athenäeum, 1988), 17f.
158. "German Crimes Arraigned," and "A Press Conference at the Ministry of Information," Polish Fortnightly Review, no. 48 (July 15, 1942), 3, 5.
159. "Extermination of the Polish Jewry: What Happened in the Warsaw Ghetto," Polish Fortnightly Review, no. 57 (December 1, 1942), 3.
160. "Extraordinary Report from the Jew-extermination Camp at Belzec," Polish Fortnightly Review, no. 57 (December 1, 1942), 4.
161. "Republic of Poland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1942).
162. As quoted in Henryk Swiebocki, London Has Been Informed: reports by Auschwitz Escapes, trans. Michael Jacobs and Laurence Weinbaum (Oswiecim: The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 1997), 77.
163. Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka were death camps designed and operated with the single purpose of destroying Jews. These camps were operated with personnel from the T4 Action--the German program to kill the (mentally) handicapped--and belonged to a separate organization created solely for the purpose of killing Jews: Operation Reinhard. The Operation Reinhard camps (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and the Trawniki training camp) were neither classified as concentration camps, nor administered and operated as such. Outside the direct control of the SS central administration and the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, the management of these camps did not report on a regular basis to Berlin. See Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Camps (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987), 14ff.
164. F.H. Hinsley, with E.E. Thomas, C.F.G Ransom and R.C. Knight, British Intelligence in the Second World War, 5 vols. (London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1981), vol. 2, 673.
165. Public Record Office, HW 16/6 PT2
166. See: United States, Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, 10 vols. (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1950), vol. 5, 433.
167. Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies (London: Michael Joseph/Rainbird, 1981), 129.
168. Martin Gilbert, "What Was Known and Why," Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press,, 1994), 540.
169. As quoted in Gilbert, "What Was Known and Why," 546.
170. As quoted in Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 234.
171. Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 130; the electric chambers and the so-called hammerluft system were a figment of the imagination. Sadly enough, the gas chambers were not.
173. "Underground Poland," Oswiecim Camp of Death (Underground Report), (New York: Polish Labour Group, 1944), 2.
174. Ibid., 9.
175. Ibid., 10f.
176. Ibid., 33f.
177. Like other important eye-witness evidence about the operation of Auschwitz as an extermination camp, the Vrba-Wetzlar and Tabeau reports have been challenged by Holocaust deniers. I will discuss these challenges to the Vrba-Wetzlar and Tabeau reports and other eye-witness evidence in my discussion of the negationist theory of the so-called "Odysseus Complex" at the end of Chapter Four.
178. Henry Swiebocki, "Die lagernahe Widerstandsbewegung und ihre Hilfsaktionen für die Häftlinge des KL Auschwitz," Hefte von Auschwitz, vol. 19 (1995), 118f., 142, 174ff.
179. As quoted in Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 234.
180. Ibid., 236.
181. As quoted in Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 251; Gilbert notes that the figure of 60,000 was a "telegraphic error," and the correct figure, given in the original message Lichtheim had drafted, was 12,000.
182. For the text of the summary see Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 262ff.
183. As quoted in Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 246.
184. Telegram Leland Harrison to Secretary of State, July 6, 1944, containing a copy of Roswell McClelland's telegram to WRB of the same date, in David S. Wyman ed., America and the Holocaust, 13 vols. (New York and London: Garland, 1990), vol. 12, 67.
185. Letter Roswell D. McClelland to John Pehle, Director, War Refugee Board, October 12, 1944, in David S. Wyman ed., America and the Holocaust, 13 vols. (New York and London: Garland, 1990), vol. 12,, 75f.
186. Telegram Leland Harrison to Secretary of State, July 6, 1944, containing a copy of Roswell McClelland's summary of the Vrba-Wetzlar report to WRB of the same date, in David S. Wyman ed.,America and the Holocaust, vol. 12, 71.
188. Ibid., 72f.
189. Ibid., 74.
190. "Czechs Report Massacre," The New York Times, June 20, 1944, 5.
191. Daniel T. Brigham, "Two Death Camps Places of Horror," The New York Times, July 6, 1944, 6.
192. While only twenty percent of the projected camp for 250,000 inmates was completed, the remains of Maidanek are better preserved than those at Birkenau. Like Auschwitz, Maidanek was also subject to many different changes of purpose. The camp was originally established to facilitate the creation of an SS basis for the Germanization of the Lublin area. In 1942/43 it became a prison camp for Poles. Gas chambers were in intermittently in operation from the Fall of 1942 to the Fall of 1943, but the major method of execution was by shooting. The destruction of Jewish deportees not registered in Maidanek was only a minor function of the camp. According to an official estimate made in 1948, possibly as many as 360,000 people died in Maidanek; one quarter of them were Jews. See Jozef Marszalek, Majdanek: The Concentration Camp in Lublin (Warsaw: Interpress, 1986).
193. Konstantin Simonov, "Lublin Annihilation Camp," Information Bulletin, Embassy of the Soviet Socialist Republics(Washington D.C.), vol. 4, no. 97 (August 29, 1944), 5.
194. Ibid., 7f.
195. Konstantin Simonov, "Lublin Annihilation Camp, Part II" Information Bulletin, Embassy of the Soviet Socialist Republics (Washington D.C.), vol. 4, no. 98 (September 1, 1944), 5.
197. The term "River Rouge" referred to the highly mechanized Ford plant on the Rouge River near Detroit, which in the 1930s and 40s had become to Americans a symbol of the most advanced system of mechanized production.
198. Bill Lawrence, "Nazi Mass Killing Laid Bare in Camp," New York Times, August 30, 1944, 1, 9.
199. "Biggest Atrocity Story Breaks in Poland," The Christian Century, vol.61 (September 13, 1944), 1045.
200. "Vernichtungslager," Time, vol. 44 (August 21, 1944), 36.
121. Richard Lauterbach, "Murder, Inc.," Time, vol. 44 (September 11, 1944), 36.
203. Richard Lauterbacj, "Sunday in Poland," Life, vol. 17 (September 18, 1944)., 17.
204. The Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. Had established on November 2, 1942 an "Extraordinary State Commission for ascertaining and investigating crimes perpetrated by the German-Fascist invaders and their accomplices, and the damage inflicted by them on citizens, collective farms, social organizations, State enterprises and institutions of the U.S.S.R." As the Red Army regained Soviet territory, this commission had undertaken wide-ranging forensic investigations. By the time of the liberation of Maidanek, it had issued 19 separate reports. See Soviet Governments on Nazi Atrocities (London: Hutchinson & Co.: n.d.).
205. "Statement of the Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission For the Investigation of Crimes Committed by the Germans in the extermination Camp of Maidanek in the Town of Lublin," Information Bulletin, Embassy of the Soviet Socialist Republics (Washington D.C.), vol. 4, no. 111 (October 17, 1944), 1-8.
206. "Statement of the Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission," 1.
207. Ibid., 5.
209. Ibid., 6.
210. Jozef Marszalek, Majdanek: The Concentration Camp in Lublin (Warsaw: Interpress, 1986), 8.
211. David Irving, Hitler's War (New York: Viking, 1977), 706.
212. Affidavit given by SS-Standartenführer Kurt Becher in Nuremberg, March 8, 1946, PS-3762.
213. War Refuge Board, "German Extermination Camps--Auschwitz and Birkenau," in David S. Wyman ed., America and the Holocaust, 13 vols. (New York and London: Garland, 1990), vol. 12, 1. Judging the historic value of the Vrba-Wetzlar Report, it is remarkable how precise the information was on the lay-out of Birkenau, the design of the barracks, and the parts of the history Vrba and Wetzlar witnessed. The topographic precision in the description of the lay-out of barracks or, for example, the situation of the first gas chamber, is especially important because they concern facts that could not have been known before the war's end except by persons who had been there. Below we will see how negationists have tried to neutralize the reports by declaring them to be fakes created as part of some conspiracy in Washinton. No person in Washington before 1945 would have had the specific and verifiable knowledge about the local topography and arrangement of the camp expressed in the reports.
214. War Refuge Board, "The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz (Oswiecim) and Birkenau in Upper Silesia," in Wyman ed., America and the Holocaust, vol. 12, 13.
215. Ibid., 18
216. See footnote 45 on page 20
217. Rudolf Vrba and Alan Bestic, I Cannot Forgive (London: Sidgwich and Jackson and Gibbs and Phillips, 1963), 175, 271.
218. War Refuge Board, "The Extermination Camps of Auschwitz (Oswiecim) and Birkenau in Upper Silesia," in Wyman ed., America and the Holocaust, vol. 12, 58.
219. Ibid., 58.
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